Photo: My swięconka basket. It's the same basket I took to church to bless food and water all the years of my growing up.
Holy Saturday was always a quiet day at our house. Early in the morning my mother was back at the stove only this time making red barszcz (red beet soup) and boiling eggs. Sometimes she cooked the eggs in onion skins to give them a beautiful brown color but mostly I remember simple white eggs boiling away while she grates a raw beet to immerse in the broth to give the barszcz it's deep red color. Everything else is done. Fresh curtains hang in the windows: white lace for the living room and cafe curtains with yellow tulips marching across the bottom for the kitchen. Every knickknack has been washed. Every corner dusted. The house is in readiness.
The kitchen smells of sausage every time my mother opens the refrigerator door. There are coils and coils of it, made fresh yesterday, then boiled and baked. The smell of it immediately makes me hungry but no one would dare to take so much as a pinch. We do not eat meat on Holy Saturday. We have to wait.
The living room is filled with the heady scent of a purple hyacinth, a smell that will always, always take me back to the Easters of my childhood. There is a vase of pussy willows on the desk. Sometimes there are daffodils from the garden there, too. There are chocolate bunnies in their cellophane wrappers lined up around the flowers as well as some of those yellow marshmallow chicks. Here and there my mother has propped up the Easter postcards sent by her family from Poland.
My brothers are off somewhere doing whatever it is they do and my Tata is slowly pacing through the house. Not a man who has hobbies, he doesn't know what to do with himself when he's not at work. It is my job to take our basket of food , the święconka basket, to church to be blessed today. My mother still has shoes to shine and church envelopes to fill and just a myriad of small, last minute chores to complete.
A trip to the attic retrieves the basket. It is oval shaped so at the bottom of the basket my mother places an oval platter, one that fits snugly to the bottom. Next comes a coil of both fresh and smoked sausage each; a half loaf of rye bread; the boiled eggs, at least six, one for each member of the family; a stick of butter; salt; a jar of horseradish and a jar filled with water. The water jar is nothing fancy- an old mustard jar, carefully washed and aired out. Tucking in a sprig of pussy willow, my mother covers the basket with the prettiest doily or scarf she has and reminds me to make sure to unscrew the jar with the water when the priest comes by to bless the baskets. When I come home and assure my mother that I had opened the jar, that the water was blessed, she opens the jar and begins going through the house, flinging the blessed water with her fingertips on the walls of each room. I don't remember the words exactly but I do know that it was very short, that she used the words "diabeł" (devil)and "ucziekaj," (be gone); that the devil was to leave, that this was a blessed house. I walk with her from room to room as she sprinkles the holy water on the walls. She always keeps holy water in the house throughout the year, replacing the old bottle with the new one every Holy Saturday.
To this day I'm sorry that I never thought to write the prayer down. The closest equivalent I've been able to find is considered one of the earliest Christian prayers. ( Euchologium Sinaiticum: https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/prayers-of-earliest-christians/
Be off, Satan, from this door and from these four walls. This is no place for you here; there is nothing for you to do here. This is the place for Peter and Paul and the holy Gospel; and this is where I mean to sleep, now that my worship is done, in the name of the Father and of the Holy Spirit.
In Polish customs and traditions, a new house or home is blessed by a priest before the occupants take up permanent residence but it was also customary to keep holy water on hand to keep the devil and evil forces away from a home. Any individual could take holy water and sprinkle it on the home, barns, and outbuildings if they felt the need.
This Polish house blessing can be said in its entirety as a litany or shortened by choosing various parts.
Niech nas błogosławi i strzeże wszechmogący i miłosierny + Bóg Ojciec, Syn Boży i Duch Święty.
May the all powerful and merciful Lord God, His Son and the Holy Spirit bless us and protect us.
Panie Jezu Chryste, wszechmogący Królu nieba i ziemi, Synu Dawida, Jezu Nazareński dla nas ukrzyżowany, Synu Boga żywego, zmiłuj się nad tym domem, strzeż jego mieszkańców. Niech twoje Boskie błogosławieństwo towarzyszy im wszędzie, niech Duch Święty oświeca ich myśli i serca i niech moc Jego działa przez nich na każdym miejscu. Wszystko co się w tym domu znajduje, tych którzy do niego wchodzą i z niego wychodzą niech błogosławi i od złego osłania błogosławieństwo Trójcy Przenajświętszej, aby do niego żadne nieszczęście się nie zbliżyło.
Lord Jesus Christ, all powerful King of heaven and earth, Son of David, Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified for us, son of the living God, have mercy of this house, protect its inhabitants. May your divine blessings accompany them everywhere, may the Holy Spirit enlighten their thoughts and hearts, and may His power work through them everywhere. All that is in this house, those who come in and out of it, be blessed and protected by the blessings of the Blessed Trinity, so that no misfortune comes to them.
Niech święte imię Jezusa z dziewięcioma chórami Aniołów będzie obecne w tym domu, darząc go swoim pokojem.
May the holy name of Jesus and nine choirs of angels reside in this home, granting it their peace.
Niech go okrywa swoim macierzyńskim płaszczem Najświętsza Maryja Panna.
May it be protected by the maternal coat of the most Blessed Virgin Mary.
Niech go strzegą święci Archaniołowie.
May it be protected by the blessed archangels.
Niech święci Apostołowie będą szafarzami jego dostatków.
May the holy Apostles be stewards of its abundance.
Niech utwierdzają i umacniają go święci Ewangeliści.
May it be strengthened and fortified by the saintly Evangelists.
Niech Krzyż Chrystusa będzie dachem tego domu.
May the cross of Jesus Christ be the roof of this house.
Niech trzy gwoździe Chrystusa będą jego zaporą.
May the three nails of Jesus Christ be its firewall
Niech korona Chrystusa będzie jego tarczą.
May the crown of Christ be its shield.
Niech Najświętsza Rana Jego Boskiego Serca będzie schronieniem dla wszystkich jego mieszkańców.
May the wounds of the Sacred Heart be shelter for all of its inhabitants.
Jezu, Maryjo, Józefie święty i wszyscy nasi Patronowie, święci Aniołowie Stróżowie, wybłagajcie u Boga w Trójcy Świętej Jedynego, aby raczył zachować ten dom od piorunów, ognia, gradu, głodu, powodzi, napadów złych ludzi, zgorszenia, niedowiarstwa, herezji, długów i wszelakiego nieszczęścia, grożącego duszy lub ciału jego mieszkańców.
Jesus, Mary and St. Joseph and all our patron saints, the holy guardian angels, pray to God in the One and only Trinity to protect this home from lightening, hail, hunger, floods, attacks by bad people, scandal, atheism, heresy, debt and all misfortune that threaten the soul or bodies of its inhabitants.
Niech nam w tym dopomoże Trójca Przenajświętsza: Bóg Ojciec, Bóg Syn i Bóg Duch Święty. Amen.
May we be helped in this through the Most Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Wishing everyone Wesołego Alleluja! A Joyous Easter!
Photo Source: Broadway Fillmore Alive http://broadwayfillmorealive.org/2.0/
Holy Thursday begins the three holiest days of the Catholic Church. In Polish, Holy Thursday is called Wielki Czwartek, or Great Thursday because it was on this day that during the Last Supper, Jesus Christ celebrated the first mass, and instituted the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and Holy Orders. It is also on this day that Jesus gave us the mandatum novum, or the "new commandment" asking us to love one another. The start of St. John's gospel verse 13:34 reads: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you." Later that night, while praying in anguish in the Garden of Gethsemene, Jesus is betrayed by Judas and locked up in a jail.
The liturgical service on Holy Thursday is immensely rich, filling the mind, the heart and the senses. Bells are rung for the last time during the Gloria and will not be heard until the Easter Vigil mass on Saturday evening. A wooden clapper called crotalus is used instead. In Polish, they are called kołatki. The organ is silenced and the priest washes of the feet of 12 men chosen to represent the apostles. After the Mass, the priest vests himself in white and carries the sacred hosts to the Altar of Repose, a closed tabernacle at one of the side altars. In Polish this closed tabernacle is called a ciemnica, meaning a dark place, supposedly in memory of Jesus being locked up in jail which in Roman times were usually underground dungeons, without access to light. The altar of repose is also sometimes called the "Holy Sepulchre" referring to the tomb in which the body of Christ was laid after his death on the cross. It is here, at one of the side altars, that the sacred hosts remain "entombed" until the liturgy on Good Friday. The altars are then stripped and left bare. All the crucifixes and statues are covered. All the signs of Christ's presence is temporarily removed. It is in this state of loss and solemnity that the faithful begin one of the most cherished and longstanding traditions of Holy Thursday - that of visiting seven churches on Holy Thursday and praying at the altars of repose.
The tradition of visiting seven churches on Holy Thursday is an ancient pilgrimage practice, believed to have originated in Rome, where early pilgrims visited the seven major basilicas as a form of penance, asking for atonement for their sins. The churches that were particular sites for visits were Saint John Lateran, Saint Peter, Saint Mary Major, Saint Paul-outside-the-Walls, Saint Lawrence-outside-the-Walls, Saint Sebastian-outside-the-Walls, and Holy Cross-in-Jerusalem. But a pilgrimage can also be simply for religious devotion. The entire spirit of the visits to the altars of repose can be an invitation to silent and prolonged adoration of the wondrous sacraments instituted by Jesus on this day. Or, it can be an acceptance of Christ's request when asked his disciples to keep vigil with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane before His arrest. "Then Jesus came with them into a country place which is called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples: Sit you here, till I go yonder and pray." Matthew 26:36 Or, it can be to keep Christ company through prayer and contemplation during the dark hours he spent in jail.
Many people begin their visit to the altar of repose in their own church immediately after attending the Holy Thursday liturgy and then begin their visits to other churches that remain open for visitations. Not all communities have seven churches, so the faithful visit as many churches as they have. In Buffalo, between the districts of the East Side and Kaisertown, there are much more than seven churches and the sight of thousands of people walking singly or in groups to their chosen seven churches inspires and uplifts the heart and soul. There are throngs of men, women, and children, entire generations of family members entering various churches; the infirm are wheeled up ramps; buses are emptying out with people returning to the church where they first took Holy Communion; the parking lots are jammed; the police are directing traffic. It is a sight to behold. Inside, the churches are silent except for the shuffling of feet; some of the churches are in almost complete darkness; the smell of incense fills the air; everyone is flocking towards the altar of repose, kneeling...praying...adoring. All have come to keep Christ company on this special and important evening. In the past, churches stayed open and people came in the middle of the night. Altar boys took first vigils, then members of Holy Name Society would take turns throughout the night to make sure there was always someone keeping Jesus company at the altar of repose.
For us, in today's times, visiting an altar of repose could be, like centuries ago, a pilgrimage. But it need not be to a faraway, distant place. It could be a mini-pilgrimage, the journey as close as any nearby church on Holy Thursday.
One of the biggest moments in my life was being able to sign for my very own library card. When I'm not reading, researching and writing I'm riding my bike, sewing or gardening. I love flea markets, folk art, and traveling to Poland.